Cenotaph dawn service commemorates Chunuk Bair

5 August 2015

On Saturday 8 August, it will be 100 years since the battle for Chunuk Bair at Gallipoli.

Original Cenotaph opening ceremony

The original opening ceremony of the Cenotaph on Sunday 17 April, 1932. Alexander Turnbull Library Wellington


Join us to pay tribute to the many soldiers that lost their lives on this day with a dawn service at the Cenotaph, 6.45am–7.45am.

The special service, organised by Wellington City Council, is one of many commemorations being planned all over New Zealand and in Turkey to remember one of New Zealand's epic stands and the huge losses on the Gallipoli peninsula.  

In the pre-dawn darkness of 8 August, the Wellington Battalion's commander Lieutenant-Colonel William Malone and his men reached the summit and, in the summer heat 1915, engaged in a desperate struggle to hold off the Turks.

It was not until after dark that reinforcements arrived and by then just 70 of the 760-strong battalion were holding the line. Malone was killed by an Allied shell and the few New Zealanders that remained were relieved by British battalions, who quickly yielded to a counter-attack and Chunuk Bair was lost.

Mayor Celia Wade-Brown says “The Chunuk Bair dawn service is a time to reflect and remember the horror of war, the service and sacrifice of all those soldiers killed and wounded.”

During the dawn service, under the line of pohutukawa trees soldiers in World War I uniforms will stand in formation, heads bowed, illuminated from below, facing the Cenotaph.

Each soldier will recite excerpts from Colonel Malone’s letters home, including these lines penned to his wife just three days before the battle at Chunuk Bair.

“My Sweetheart,

In less than 2 hours, we move off to a valley… in readiness for a big attack which will start tomorrow night. Everything promises well and victory should rest with us. God grant it so and that our casualties will not be too heavy,”  he wrote in a letter dated 5 August 1915.

The dawn commemorations will be highlighted by a wreath-laying ceremony, and readings read by Lt. Col. Nick Thornton and Mayor Wade-Brown.

A Catafalque Guard by the 5th and 7th Battalion will stand in formation at the Cenotaph while the last post is played to mark this solemn anniversary.

The Wellington Brass Band Inc. and Metropolitan Cathedral of the Sacred Heart Choir will conclude the ceremony with John William’s Hymn to the Fallen and Elgar’s Nimrod.

Earlier this year Wellington and Çanakkale formalised a historic sister city relationship to permanently recognise the links forged in battle, blood and bravery. Çanakkale is located in the same province as the Gallipoli battle sites, including Anzac Cove and Chunuk Bair. The relationship was unanimously approved by Wellington City Council in April  2015 on historical grounds. Wellington and Çanakkale are at centre of the 100-year commemorations of the Gallipoli campaign.

The Battle for Chunuk Bair commemoration is one of the key national and international commemorations of the WWI centenary. Wellingtonians can also attend the national commemoration on 8 August, which is being held at Pukeahu National War Memorial Park from 4pm.

Visitors to the Great War Exhibition at the Dominion Museum Building can view a 10-metre diorama of the Battle of Chunuk Bair with more than 5000 miniature soldiers frozen in action. Open daily from 9am-6pm (until 10pm Wednesdays).


Gallipoli: The Scale of our War is open at Te Papa daily from 10am-6pm (until 9pm Thursdays).